In a renewed round of pre-Christmas violence, Hindu extremists in India assaulted priests and nuns and ransacked Christian churches and schools. Christian leaders fear the worst is yet to come amid the country's growing atmosphere of intolerance and communalism.

Christian organizations have repeatedly sought protection from the authorities in the largely Hindu country, but to no avail. Fanatical Hindu organizations such as the Rashtiriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Sangh Parivar (SP), and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) receive support from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In November about 400 VHP activists desecrated and forcibly took over a church belonging to the Evangelical Church of India in Surat District, Gujarat state. The church's cross was removed from the altar and replaced by Hindu idols. In addition, a saffron flag, symbolizing that the church was now a place of Hindu worship, was hoisted.

A five-member fact-finding team headed by John Dayal, secretary general of the All-India Christian Council (AICC), alleged that Hindu fundamentalist organizations were trying to convert the church into a temple. The matter, now a national controversy, is pending in court.

In the incident, about 80 Christian families, some 200 tribal Christians in all, were driven out of the village, taking refuge in a nearby forest. VHP activists have warned that the Christians will only be allowed back if they embrace Hinduism. Area Christians blame the district police for aiding the VHP.

"The situation in Gujarat has deteriorated," stated Joseph D'Souza, president of the AICC. "We feel that the government is conniving with the Sangh Parivar outfits. We take very strong objection [to] the government's claim that the ...

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